Exposure makes Indian art prices gallop in global mart

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : The price curve of Indian art is shooting north in the global market because of “increased consciousness” about it, say experts.

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This has been brought about by greater visibility of art and artists from the country and easy access to relevant information about Indian art from the internet, they say.

“Indian art is becoming a part of international consciousness, why is why we have seen a spectacular growth in this field,” Yamini Mehta, director of modern and contemporary Indian art at the London-based Christie’s, told IANS on e-mail.

“Boundaries are becoming more fluid. We are seeing more Indian artists being represented in international museum exhibitions and art fairs. The exposure is helping create newer collectors who actively seek out works by the best of Indian artists to add to their collections,” Mehta said.

On June 11, a painting by F.N. Souza, an Indian artist who spent the better part of his life in New York, sold for $2.5 million, while an untitled painting by Tyeb Mehta (Figure in a Rickshaw) fetched 982,050 pounds setting new price records at the Christie’s auction in London.

Five of contemporary artist Subodh Gupta’s works were also sold in the same auction at record prices. Gupta’s “Bucket”, an abstract canvas with the symbolic motif of his trademark bucket, was sold for 121,250 pounds while his “Magic Wands” and “Cotton Wicks” were sold for 169,250 pounds and 15,000 pounds respectively.

Twelve artists set new records in terms of prices at the auction in London.

According to experts, Indian art in general had a higher price profile in almost every international art show this year.

A New Delhi-based dealer, Nature Morte, sold a set of three sculptures by Gupta for nearly $1 million, while a painting by rising star T.V. Santosh went out to a British collector for $170,000 at the prestigious Art Basel, the largest fair of modern and contemporary art in Switzerland. Gupta’s seven-metre wide “Triptych” sold for $1 million in the same fair.

In March 2008, M.F. Husain’s “Battle of Ganga and Jamuna” sold for $1.6 million in New York.

Auction houses and dealers attribute the boom to growing consciousness and appreciation of Indian art internationally.

According to Mehta, the new breed of collectors, who are armed with more money, are incredibly well informed. “They usually look for a combination of three factors in an art work – lineage, the artist and its freshness.

“For instance, the ‘The Birth’ by F.N. Souza which sold for a record-breaking price of $2.5 million, had the combination of all the three: it was a large museum quality masterpiece by one of the giants in Indian art and completely fresh to the market,” Mehta said.

The freshness of the artwork, experts claimed, was instrumental in pushing up its price.

Peter Nagy, director of Nature Morte Gallery in Delhi, which sold almost all its works at the Basel fair, says the increase in price is directly related to the demand for the works and the increased attention that the international art world is paying to contemporary art works coming out of India today.

“This increased attention increases the demand and hence the prices go up,” Nagy told IANS.

Citing Basel as an example, Nagy said the “audience in Switzerland wanted unique Indian works and were not interested in works and prints by Indian artists. However, the prices of the works were dictated by the prices set in India”.

Another factor that determines the price tag is the stiff neck-on-neck bids, especially at auctions, and the wide client base. The competition among bidders triggers an artificial increase in prices.

The phenomenon is also gradually becoming applicable to Indian art, especially in international sales.

Describing the nature of the Christie’s London auction of Asian art, Mehta said the auction hall was packed right from the beginning with clients from across the globe.

“There was also spirited bidding on telephones and through Christie’s LIVE, which is a new platform for our clients to watch the live auction in real time and bid online from the comfort of home or office,” Mehta said.

According to an estimate by the Christie’s, the market for Indian art gathered steam over the last decade, totalling an impressive $42 million in 2006 from just $656,000 in a sale in 2000.

Before that, price milestones were generally one-time. In 2005, Tyeb Mehta’s “Mahisasura” sold for a record $1,584,000.